May 21, 2008

SMOKE 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM IN YOUR SIGHTS:

Rethinking Churchill and the Allied warmongers (Richard Bernstein, May 21, 2008, NY Times)

Now, in this country at least, a current of opinion is gaining strength that stands Churchill on his head. It wasn't appeasement that brought about the disaster of the conflict, but warmongering on the part of the Allied leaders, Churchill first and foremost among them.

The new revisionism makes no excuses for Hitler, but it sees the war through a lens of moral relativism: Yes, the Nazis were evil, but so were the Allies, whose leaders were mendacious, committed unspeakable atrocities and hoodwinked the public into believing that the war was a noble one, fought on behalf of decency and against an evil more colossal than any previous evil in human history.

For those of us, including myself, who have long believed that the Allied war effort was indeed noble, it might seem that such a point of view could only emanate from the dank quarters of some lunatic fringe, perhaps holed up in a Rocky Mountain redoubt and eating conspiracy theories for breakfast.

But on the contrary, the view seems to be the province of entirely respectable and thoughtful people of literary bent. The most visible proponent of the unnecessary war theory is the novelist Nicholson Baker, an accomplished, gentle and entirely civilized man, whose book "Human Smoke" has made him a darling of leftist critics of the American role in the world.


Mr. Bernstein -- who's been unchallenged for title of best writer at the Times since Red Smith passed -- ought to know better by now than to posit a difference between the kooks of the far Right and the Left. The tragedy of WWII, of course, is that the Allies were insufficiently warlike and thus lost the war by not taking it to the Soviet Union. Merely replacing Hitler with Stalin was indeed to treat Nazism as too unique an evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2008 8:09 AM
Comments

Mr. Bernstein is, if not a knave, then a fool.

And someone, of whom it might have once been said, ought to know one heckuva lot better.

The perversity he now appears to sanction may be viewed as another manifestation of the intelligentsia's rush towards insanity.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 21, 2008 8:31 AM

Is Mr. Bernstein insane for writing this? Or is he merely a small step ahead of his time?

The current hagiographical treatment of the subject of WW2, its "unifying" effect, and its "nobility," has been needing challenging for some time now. Now that the WW2 Generation is rapidly dying off, and now that their Baby Boomer enablers are on their way to ceding control of the narrative, the next decade of historical research could really bring the truth out, so to speak.

Posted by: Brad S at May 21, 2008 8:52 AM

Brad S:

I'm sure there is stuff that needs challenging, but I get a feeling that the death of the generation that liberated the camps will cause the pendulum to swing too far the other way. Arguing that Churchill brought on the conflict is bonkers.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 21, 2008 9:03 AM

the unnecessary war theory

They only killed the Jews, who care? Except for a few intransigent partisans, the French adapted. Some of them even out-nazied the Nazis to concentrate the Jews in Camps. The Polish were a tougher nut to crack, but most of them returned to their farms. German overlord, Polish overlord, Russian overlord, they were overlords, weren't they? If Churchill had not demonized Hitler's Europe unification plan, if the stupid Americans had not meddled... Anyway, aren't they unifying Europe now? Hitler was just a little bit ahead of his time. Come to think of it, the Americans fought not to liberate Europe, they fought to prevent a strong unified Europe. Churchill and his American puppies should own up to their killing of millions.

On the other hand, humans, especially the white kind, were destroying the environment, one couldn't imagine how much worse it would be without the occasional culling. The war was unnecessary, the outcome was much desired.

Posted by: ic at May 21, 2008 10:05 AM

"Rocky Mountain Redoubt"

These days that redoubt would be in Vermont or the Oakland or Malibu Hills or overlooking Central Park.


Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 21, 2008 10:18 AM

After reading the article, it doesn't see Bernstein actually supports this thesis. He is simply bringing it to light as a recent phenomenon. He is supportive of those who refuted them.

Much of what Bernstein writes about has circulated since some of the first revisionism of WWII in the '70s. But I guess its appearance in literature is new.

I think the eventual narrative will be similar to what OJ suggests and sees WWII and the Cold War as essentially a continuity with the West in opposition to tyranny. This was essentially the early Cold War view, but sufferred after the 1960s.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at May 21, 2008 10:57 AM

Within the past two days, the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" has taken notice of two writers arguing that appeasement wasn't that bad a thing, Hitler's demands weren't unreasonable, and so on. Both were written to defend Barack Obama in the "appeasement" flap: one by the very liberal Seattle Times, the other by Pitchfork Pat Buchanan. Blair's Law in action.

While I don't totally agree with OJ's theory that the Allies were insufficiently warlike, it should be pointed out that when the war started in 1939, Hitler and Stalin were allied.

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 21, 2008 11:07 AM

He doesn't agree with them:

"To re-examine old assumptions, including almost universally held ones, is of course a good thing, a strength of democracy. But the most radical of the critiques of the Allied leaders - exemplified by Kurlansky's amazing characterization of them as warmongering, arms-selling bigots - seem to illustrate the old notion of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

It may be true that Churchill was an arch-imperialist whose advocacy of tough policies on Germany after World War I was dreadfully mistaken (though, as Wheatcroft points out, recent scholarship indicates that the Treaty of Versailles wasn't actually as onerous as many have believed.) But Churchill and Roosevelt faced the very imminent prospect of a Europe conquered by a genocidal evil genius - not a social anti-Semite worried, as Roosevelt apparently was, that there were too many Jews at Harvard."

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2008 12:53 PM

That the war may have been unnecessary doesn't make it wrong.

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2008 1:17 PM

OJ,

You need to posit those kinds of axioms more often, it would make you sound more reasonable.

Posted by: Brandon at May 21, 2008 6:19 PM

No one has any problems with oj's statement that the Allies lost the war? OJ is marching right next to Baker in his attempt to denigrate the "good war."

Posted by: Ibid at May 21, 2008 6:55 PM

Suppose to accept the Gotsian premise that the Second World War had been elective as to the moment of its inception. That is to say, Britain and its Polish ally cospired to bait Germany into general war years before Germany was ready.

Do we not see that such a war, while avoidable, at the time, was "necessary" nonetheless?

Likewise, Gulf War Two, loses none of its "necessity" for having been optional as to the time of its inception. We are merely using "necessary" in slightly different way. It had been "necessary" that both wars be fought. That they were started at the point in time advantageous to the victor rather than when changing circumstances would have rendered victory difficult or even unattainable did not render them unnecessary.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 21, 2008 9:00 PM

Nice point, Mr. Gots. That Americans can argue that it is "unfair" to bait an obvious enemy into war before he is ready just proves how far removed we are from any existential threat.

Posted by: Ibid at May 21, 2008 10:05 PM

That requires the notion that Germany would have been formidable at some pint. It's essentially a faith in Nazism, as fear of the USSR required faith in Communism and fear of al Qaeda is faith in Islamicism. It's a function of folks who don't trust liberal democracy.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2008 6:16 AM

It was a great war for America. What is fifty years of East Germany or 100 million dead Chinese to us?

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2008 6:17 AM

Who would care about sounding reasonable to people who are so often wrong because of reasoning?

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2008 6:19 AM

Quite to the contrary, Nazism was a drag upon German military virtue and technology.

The bizarre political ideology of the Nazis undermined German achievements again and again. We should not confuse the strengths of purposefulness, unity, order, and discipline with the weaknessess of pagan fanaticism.

Would the Germans have become formidible, "at some point?" Just perhaps such a situation might have obtained at the point at which the Germans produced their jet aircraft, stealth bombers, anti-air and anti-ship guided missles, superlative AFV's, advanced submarines, new individual weapons and all the rest, while the rest of the worrd stagnated in pacifism and isoloationism.

It is not too much to say that they had been about to re-define warfare, about to move the military threshhold, as we ourselves have just done.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 22, 2008 11:10 AM

Quite to the contrary, Nazism was a drag upon German military virtue and technology.

The bizarre political ideology of the Nazis undermined German achievements again and again. We should not confuse the strengths of purposefulness, unity, order, and discipline with the weaknessess of pagan fanaticism.

Would the Germans have become formidible "at some point?" Just perhaps such a situation might have obyained at the point at which the Germans produced their jet aircraft, stealth bombers, anti-air and anti-ship guided missles, superlative AFV's, advanced submarines, new individual weapons and all the rest, while the rest of the worrd stagnated in pacifism and isoloationism.

It is not too much to say that they had been about to re-define warfare, about to move the military threshhold, as we ourselves have just done.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 22, 2008 11:20 AM

Yes, the post-Nazi Germans.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2008 1:18 PM
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